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Saturday, January 22, 2022

UC Davis club hosts female-centric esports bootcamp

Esports at UC Davis recently hosted a bootcamp designed to create an inclusive environment for women to learn about online gaming and build community

By SONORA SLATER — science@theaggie.org

Whether your only interaction with online gaming is building a house once in Minecraft, or you regularly ruin your sleep schedule staying up late to game with friends, it is hard to deny the growing impact of gaming on today’s generation.

But according to Samuel Petruescu, a fifth-year applied physics major and the director of the Esports at UC Davis club, this online space often faces the challenge of being unwelcoming to female participants — a challenge which sparked an idea for the leaders of the club.

The week of Dec. 13-17, 2021, Esports at UC Davis hosted a female-centric esports bootcamp, both virtually and in-person on the UC Davis campus, seeking to help women get involved in esports and create an inclusive environment for anyone to participate. Kevin Deras-Guerra, a second-year biological sciences major and the co-director of Esports at UC Davis, explained how the idea came about.

“This event was my Co-Director, Sam’s, brainchild,” Deras-Guerra said via Discord. “Before I had been onboarded as esports assistant director and elevated to Co-Director, Sam put in the [framework] for what he saw as an environment in which women-identifying individuals could have a space to learn about the various facets of esports and grow and find identity within the community.” 

According to Petruescu, the event is part of the club’s “Inclusion Plan,” created through a partnership with student affairs.

“In my experience and judging from what we saw at the boot camp, there’s a lot of really talented women here at Davis who can compete [at] higher competitive levels, but often are discouraged from doing so due to their gender,” Petruescu said via Discord. 

Petruescu then elaborated on some of the other goals of the bootcamp, beyond competitive gaming.

“As the only esports organization on campus, we wanted to try and provide women with the opportunity to get introduced to esports,” Petruescu said. “Not just to compete but to also participate and intern in areas like graphic design or casting so they can develop valuable career skills.” 

As the club was only recently instated in the summer of 2021, and this was their first in-person event, Deras-Guerra listed a number of individuals and programs who were instrumental in making the bootcamp a reality.

“Vice Chancellor Pablo, Ben, Ferguson from the games area, and the women’s center all gave us valuable and much needed help on the logistics of this whole operation,” Deras-Guerra said. “Monetary support from fundraisers at the games area was a huge game changer that allowed us to fund a lot of what we needed to make the program possible, not to mention the support from Vice Chancellor Pablo and Ben with their own monetary pledges to help us out with catering and all the perishables.” 

He also highlighted the work that their graphic design and public relations interns did in order to advertise the event.

According to Deras-Guerra, each day of the event consisted of three main stages: conferences and guest speakers, lunch and free gaming time, with each day focusing on a specific game such as Valorant or Rocket League. Petruescu elaborated on what these stages entailed. 

“We had gaming sessions each day […] which provided newer players with the opportunity to try new games and learn from their fellow peers,” Petruescu said. “We also had small group discussions and guest speaker sessions discussing topics such as toxicity in gaming, opportunities in esports, and more.” 

According to Petruescu, there were 50 students signed up for the event, though the close proximity to the holidays, COVID-19 concerns and unpredictable weather prevented some from participating. Although in-person attendance was low, online attendance was fairly high, allowing plenty of participants to game together through Discord. 

Despite the challenges of lower attendance, Deras-Guerra said that he actually found it positively impacting the sense of community and quality of interactions.

“The smaller crowd gave us, as well-versed figures in collegiate esports, [time] to provide more individualized support to the participants we had,” Deras-Guerra said. “It also led to a lot more personal conversations, [and] anecdotes about the disparities that woman-identifying individuals face in the online space.”

He went on to detail some of the conversations he had with participants during the event.

“On the first day, I emphasized a sense of community and belonging, and opened up a space for all of our participants to have a discussion on why they were there, what they aimed to gain from participating in this program,” Deras-Guerra said. “Responses ranged from just wanting to make friends or challenge their social anxiety to receiving coaching to learning more about the non-gaming side to esports.” 

Lindsay Legate, a fourth-year food science major who participated in the bootcamp in-person, talked about why she decided to join. 

“I like video games and had a tiny bit of interest in the esports scene, but I was always pretty intimidated by the environment[,] and I wasn’t really sure where to start,” Legate said via Discord.

She then described her experience, and what she took away from the week. 

“Sammy and Kevin were both really helpful in leading the event, and they created a really welcoming environment that took away all the stress of being new to some of these games,” Legate said. “Overall[,] I’m really happy that I went, I learned so many new things[,] and I met lots of new people who I still sometimes play games with!”

According to Petruescu, the overall goal of the event was to create “an equal space” where anyone, regardless of skill level, was encouraged to participate. But in addition to welcoming beginners, they wanted to highlight the success many female players have already had.

“Esports is currently male dominant, but there’s no reason for it to be,” Petruescu said. “We are starting to see a shift where more and more female identifying players are competing and being very successful.” 

Deras-Guerra clarified that the event isn’t meant to encourage a separation between genders in competitive gaming, but rather to recognize a disparity in opportunities. 

“I don’t think many people in the space advocate for that same separation that exists in sports,” Deras-Guerra said. “The unfortunate reality however is that there is a notable, undeniable gap between the opportunities that women receive in gaming versus men traditionally.”

According to Deras-Guerra, having a bootcamp focused on female players rather allowed participants to build support groups and make friends with similar interests.

“Events like our Women in Esports Bootcamp [aren’t meant] to devalue women but to empower them by giving them a space where they aren’t held back by the majority that so often undervalues them or writes them off,” Deras-Guerra said. 

Written by: Sonora Slater — science@theaggie.org

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